Youth have the best chance of changing behavior that puts them at risk for HIV.
In Kenya, community members teach young people about appropriate sexual behavior
In Kenya, as in many countries, teaching young people about sex is problematic. Education programs are few, controversy surrounds providing health services to sexually active teens, and the belief that education about sex and contraceptives leads to promiscuity is pervasive.
But the consequences of ignoring adolescents’ need for accurate information are severe. Young people in Kenya, as in other African countries, are at greatest risk of becoming infected with HIV.
The young, however, also have the best chance of changing behavior that puts them at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections—if they have unbiased and accurate information to help them make decisions. To provide that information, the Kenya Adolescent Reproductive Health Project (KARHP) mobilized teachers, parents, religious and community leaders, and a cadre of peer educators to engage young people in conversations about sexual behavior and reproductive health. Effects were so encouraging that the Kenyan government has endorsed and expanded the program and its tools and approaches have been incorporated by many donor-supported programs that continue to operate.
How to avoid risky behavior
The initial project had three ambitious goals:
- Improve knowledge about reproductive health and encourage responsible attitudes toward sexuality.
- Delay the onset of sexual activity among younger adolescents.
- Decrease risky behaviors among young people who are already sexually active.
To reach youths both in and outside of school, PATH joined with the Population Council and three Kenyan government ministries. Our innovative approach centered on contacting young people in three settings: their communities, their schools, and their local health centers. People from throughout the community, including parents, teachers, religious leaders, and peers, completed training in adolescent reproductive health. Then, we set out to engage young people in conversation.
Group discussions and condom demonstrations
In each setting—community, school, and health center—young people found opportunities to talk about health and sexual behavior in groups and one-on-one. Community educators and teachers used a combination of dramatic presentations, video shows, condom demonstrations, outreach meetings, and group discussions to cover topics including relationships, assertiveness skills, sexually transmitted infections, and teen pregnancy. Peer educators tackled the same kinds of topics, and reported making more than 10,000 individual contacts with young people.
In the end, the project not only proved well-known throughout its trial region, but a substantial number of young people and their parents had participated in one or more activities. Just as important, there are encouraging signs that the project, coupled with other efforts by the Kenyan government to address adolescent health issues, has helped to:
- Increase awareness of reproductive health issues for young people.
- Strengthen attitudes toward abstaining from sex and practicing fidelity.
- Improve perceptions about practicing protected sex.
- Delay some adolescents becoming sexually active.
- Encourage safer sex practices.
Photo: PATH/Mike Wang.